Behind the Veil #11: Hook, Like, and Sinker


Hook, Like, and Sinker

You head to your local computer store, looking for a new game. You’ve gotten your usual six hours of play time out of last week’s purchase, and it’s time to drop another fifty dollars and move on to the next challenge. What do you look for?

Put simply, as our last column suggested, you’re looking for features. You want a brand new game that will stimulate your imagination and your reflexes, and that will offer some new contribution to your growing list of “been there, done that.” Whether you know it or not, you’re looking for Acquisition Features.

An Acquisition Feature is something that causes you to pick up the box and take it to the checkout, hopefully with enough money in your pocket to take it home with you. Finding a good game with the features you want is difficult. It’s also difficult for the designers to figure out what these features are, and put them in the game. Creating a game that consumers will want to purchase means coming up with a whole host of acquisition features, and implementing them.

So what qualifies as an acquisition feature? Well, here is a partial list of such features, just to get you started:
[LIST]
[*]Easy to install
[*]Cutting-edge graphics
[*]Easy-to-use interface
[*]Intuitive game play
[*]Multiple races and/or character types
[*]Many skills to learn and improve
[/LIST]
For most computer games, this is the only distribution problem. Once the game has been bought, the work is done; sit back, let the money come in, and your return on investment is complete. However, for an online game, it’s slightly more complex than that.

Whether you’re talking about Diablo 2 or EverQuest, getting the players to buy the game simply isn’t enough. Once you have them playing the game, you need them to stay with it. This involves an entirely different set of features called Retention Features.

If the acquisition feature is the bait, the retention feature is the hook. One lures you in, the other keeps you around. It is unusual for a feature to act as both acquisition and retention; they are usually entirely separate concepts. In addition, most retention feature must continually be enhanced, tweaked or added to, which goes a long way to demonstrate how an online game is a service, not just a product. Here are a few standard retention features:
[LIST]
[*]Technical stability
[*]Stable patches
[*]Advanced social features
[*]Frequent content addition
[*]Many chat channels, both player-controlled and server controlled
[*]Expansion packs
[*]Player-created content
[/LIST]
Gordon Walton, one of the creative minds behind Ultima Online and The Sims, says of features:

I try and think of what every feature does in terms of acquisition and retention. More specifically, I try and rationalize every feature on how it ties a player to (1) other people within the game environment and/or (2) an in-game reminder of a valuable game accomplishment. There are dozens of other variables, but these are the big-ticket items in my opinion.

I interpret this to mean that any major feature that gets implemented must have demonstrable value for either gaining or keeping users. This can be as simple as hotkeys to make commands easier, or as complex as a highly robust chat system. It doesn’t matter what the feature is, or how hard it is to code, as long as it serves a purpose.

Of course, what purpose each feature will serve is largely based on your expected audience. Remember the Bartle Player Types? If your game is geared toward Explorers and Achievers, why add a feature for Killers that won’t ever be used? Why would you include PK in Myst?

As long as you know who your target audience is, you can start adding features that appeal to them. Your expected audience should be obvious from your game’s concept, so I won’t go in to great detail on this topic. If you don’t know what player groups a First Person Shooter appeals to, you’re in the wrong business.

For the purpose of this column, let us assume that you’re creating an MMORPG that will appeal to all four Bartle types. What sort of features would you want to include for each player type? Sadly, this is a question that few game designers ask themselves. There are a few general features that appeal to everyone, such as those listed above, but many game designers don’t look beyond these features to the motivations behind each player type. We will do just this, and we’ll do it next time.

 

Disclaimer: Behind the Veil was written by Chris Marks and hosted by Diabloii.net. The opinions expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.

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